Report questions "uncertain" benefit of flood management spending cuts

5th November 2014

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  • Central government ,
  • Adaptation



Cuts in funding for flood defences have been slammed by the government's spending watchdog, which warned they could increase the need for emergency spending in the future.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has scrutinised the government’s current approach to funding flood defence.

In its report, the NAO said that the government made an extra £270 million available following last winter’s storms, which included an additional £35 million for asset maintenance in both 2014-15 and 2015-16.

This has restored maintenance funding to 2010-11 levels in cash terms, it said. However, this represents a real terms decrease of 6% between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

The advisory body questioned the long-term benefit of costing out flood defence management for lower risk areas. The government’s process of benefit-to-cost analysis and consequent prioritisation of flood defences risks 50% of flood protection assets and allows defences in lower priority areas to deteriorate and depreciate, the NAO says.

Although these measures cut costs in the short term, the NAO has questioned the strategy’s efficacy and sustainability, as well as its overall cost. The future risk of floods and the potential need for more “expensive ad hoc emergency solutions”, as seen in the extra £270 million made available by the government following the 2013 winter storms, could increase because of the decision to prioritise funds away from maintenance, it warned.

“The achievement of value for money in the long term remains significantly uncertain,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee of public accounts, similarly questioned the government’s short-term approach. She expressed her ‘deep concern’ over the current levels of spending on the maintenance of flood management, and the lack of value for money in the long-term.

Defra challenged the findings of the report, announcing that the NAO’s conclusions on funding were based on “inappropriate comparisons”.

In a statement, the department said: “The NAO compares two financial years (10/11 compared to either 13/14 or 14/15) rather than looking at the total amount we have spent over this parliament. This parliament will see a 5% real-term increase in flood spending, compared with the previous parliament.

“Not only are we spending more than ever before…but next month, we will set out the first ever six-year programme with record levels of investment, which will protect another 300,000 homes by the end of the decade.”

The committee on climate change said the NAO's findings backed up its report on adaptation, published in the summer. Each £1 not invested means communities will suffer up to £8 in unnecessary flood damage, it said.


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